American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 (3-8-99)

Most Recent Action
On March 11, 1998, Rep. Scott Klug (R-WI) introduced HR 3441, legislation to reauthorize the National Environmental Education Act. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where it remained for the rest of the Congress. The bill was virtually identical to H.R. 3645, which he introduced in the 104th Congress. Both bills would have required materials developed by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Environmental Education to be "balanced and scientifically sound." The bill also placed some restrictions on expenditures under the Environmental Education Act and eliminated environmental internships and fellowships. A companion bill was introduced in the 104th Congress by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), S. 1873. S. 1873 passed the Senate by unanimous consent and was subsequently sent to the House, where it was referred to the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families. H.R. 3645 was also referred to these same committees. Neither of the bills received any further attention in the House. Senate Report 104-336 provides a thorough background of the Act and a summary of the Senate's actions on S. 1873.

The very first National Environmental Education Act was signed into law on October 30, 1970, by President Nixon. However, the Act was funded only through 1975 and then it was repealed in 1981 as part of a budget reconciliation bill. The 101st Congress brought up the issue again in 1990 with S. 3176. The bill ultimately became the National Environmental Education Act (PL 101-619) which was signed into law on November 16, 1990, by President Bush. It mandates that EPA make environmental education a priority through various activities administered by its Environmental Education Division. The overarching goals of the Act are for EPA to arrange environmental education initiatives at the federal level and to provide national leadership for the public and private sectors. The act includes the following:

Funding for the National Environmental Education Act
Even though the Act authorizes funds to the EPA for implementation of the Act, Congress has always appropriated much less than the amount authorized. The authorizations and appropriations are:

S.1873 would have cut authorized funding for the Environmental Education Act to $10 million each year from 1997 to 2002, still more than Congress has appropriated in past years.

Environmental Education and Training Program
Section 5 of the Environmental Education Act authorizes funding for the Environmental Education and Training Program, which is implemented by the Environmental Education and Training Partnership (EETAP). One of the major programs in EPA's Environmental Education Division, the partnership arose out of a cooperative agreement between the North American Association for Environmental Education and the EPA. The partnership is composed of several institutions cooperating to provide environmental education and training to education professionals, focusing on teachers, informal educators, state and local education and natural resource officials, and nonprofit organizations. The partners include Project WET, Project WILD, and Project Learning Tree. According to EETAP, the program's ultimate goal is "to increase the public's ability to make responsible environmental decisions by developing awareness and knowledge about environmental issues, and promoting critical thinking and other skills needed to make sound environmental decisions." Toward that goal, EETAP is developing voluntary standards for the development and evaluation of environmental education materials. The program is also evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of current environmental education materials.

Environmental Education Grants
Another major program of EPA's Environmental Education Division is the Environmental Education Grants program. Established under Section 6 of the National Environmental Education Act, the grants provide seed money for local-level projects that are formal or informal in nature. Since 1992, the EPA has awarded 1500 grants worth a total of $16 million. Grants of $25,000 or less are awarded from the EPA regional offices and any grants higher than that amount are awarded by the EPA main office. By law, the highest percentage of grants awarded must be for amounts less than $5,000 each.

The lack of funding for the Environmental Education Act has led to problems in implementing many of the Act's goals. Namely, no funds have ever been appropriated for the internships and fellowships requirement. To fill this need, the EPA established a pro gram for project-specific internships, called the
National Network for Environmental Management Studies (NNEMS). Annually, more than 100 students from more than 230 universities participate in the program. NNEMS enables students to work on a specific environmental research project with EPA professionals or at their own university. In 1995 and 1996, the internships were listed in America's top 100 internships by the Princeton Review.

National Environmental Education Advisory Council
The National Environmental Education Advisory Council consists of eleven members from various geographic areas who represent a wide variety of public and private expertise. The National Environmental Education Act of 1990 prescribes three main activities for the Council: describing the state of US environmental education, updating Congress on the EPA's progress in implementing the Act, and recommending ways to strengthen environmental education at the national, state and local levels. The Council issued a report in December 1996 detailing these three areas.

According to the report, there is a high demand for environmental education in schools and communities. Despite the popularity of environmental education, EPA has been unable to fully support the large number of environmental projects applied for by schools and other groups. From 1991 to 1996, the EPA received about 10,000 applications requesting a total of $300 million. However, the agency was only able to fund about 1,200 proposals with the $13 million that Congress appropriated. In other words, the EPA could only fund 12 percent of the applications received and 4 percent of the total funds requested.

The Council wrote that the most effective environmental education programs have an "action" component. In order to encourage action, environmental educators need to provide individuals with "information, critical-thinking, and decision-making skills they need to make their own responsible decision among a range of options."

The Council determined that EPA's Environmental Education Division has accomplished much during its first five years. Their accomplishments include an annual grants program, a national training program for educators, advisory committees linking the EPA with other federal agencies, and an awards program. Despite the Division's accomplishments, the Council wrote that "much more needs to be done to overcome the increasing challenges facing the field and strengthen the effectiveness of the federal role in sup porting state, local, and tribal efforts." The Council recommended that EPA work with stakeholders, such as federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, school, colleges, universities, and community groups, on the following points:

Finally, the Council wrote that "all Americans must be educated to see themselves as stakeholders who have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make informed decisions and to take responsible actions in a world of complex environmental challenges."

National Environmental Education and Training Foundation
According to former president David Rockland, NEETF was created to leverage public money, government expertise, and private resources and entrepreneurial spirit to devise the best solutions for environmental education. NEETF's mission is "the attainment of essential environmental knowledge by all Americans to insure a prosperous, healthy, and sustainable future." To that end, NEETF has established the following priority programs:

Current president Kevin Coyle cites wide public support for environmental education: according to a survey performed by Roper Starch Worldwide, 95 percent of adults and 96 percent of parents support environmental education in schools.

For more information on EPA's environmental education activities, visit the EPA Region 5 website.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, Journal of Environmental Education, National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training, National Environmental Education Advisory Council, National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, North American Association for Environmental Education

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Stephanie Barrett, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Posted July 31, 1997, Last updated March 8, 1999

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